Suburban Life

04 left with lights on, 99 to right of the 04
04 left with lights on, 99 to right of the 04

This review is going to be about not one, but rather two Suburbans currently in the shitbox fleet. They are from two different generations, and a lot had changed between them. So this review touches a bit on their differences, good and bad. One is a 1999 GMC Suburban, later called the GMC Yukon XL in 2000, and the other a 2004 Chevrolet Suburban. The 99 has been in the fleet for 3 years now, whereas the 04 has only been in the fleet for about 5 months now, since November of 2017. I’ll begin with the 99 suburban.

1999 GMC Suburban

Brakes failed and I didn't stop in time before falling off driveway ledge
Brakes failed and I didn't stop in time before falling off driveway ledge

The 1999 GMC Suburban has been with the shitbox fleet for a while now. We’ve put about 35k miles. It is in serious need of help, as it’s got approximately 258k hard miles on it. But we’ll touch on that later. It’s the SLE trim package, so it’s not a base model, but isn’t swimming in all the bells and whistles either. It is a 4x4 but it doesn’t work (explanation later). This Suburban has remote entry, power locks and Windows, power drivers seat, barn doors in the rear, tow package and an aftermarket radio. It is equipped with the 5.7l/350ci Vortec V8 engine, the 4L60E automatic transmission and a 44 gallon fuel tank. It does have the autotrack electronic 4x4 system, but due to electrical problems, leaks due to to GM engineering and other issues, we’ve removed the front driveshaft. It would randomly shift into 4x4 and/or engage the front diff. For the time being, 4x4 isn’t possible. The fuel tank has a puncture about 2/3rds of the way up the tank, so you can’t fill it any higher than that without it spilling into the ground.

It’s got plenty of room inside, and it seats 8 people. Surprisingly the seats are in half decent shape for their age and the miles on it. Although for me, I can’t find a good seating position relative to the pedals and steering wheel. Brake pedal feel is garbage on this truck. There isn’t any for the most part. This is apparently common on this gen suburban. The brake lines have been replaced with the exception of one last original line. GM brake and fuel lines have a rust problem, so it’s no surprise when they fail. Just be ready for when they do. To maintain this truck to a semi-decent level, we change the oil every 2500 miles. The transmission slips a little in 3rd gear. And it currently has a multiple cylinder misfire problem, probably the ignition coil and the distributor cap/rotor on their way out. The wheel alignment isn’t on center either.

Despite the abuse, the fact I really could care less when driving this truck, it has yet to die in a significant manner. It averages decent fuel mileage and will go when you want it. If it weren’t for the check engine light and a scan tool, you wouldn’t even know it had a misfire problem. It’s quiet too, it doesn’t make much noise even when you take it to the limiter.

2004 Chevrolet Suburban

Suburban Life - Readers' Reviews

Now onto the 2004 Suburban.

This one is my new daily driver, due to the fact the Bronco had started showing Transmission issues along with a few other problems. So to give me the chance to work on fixing it, I had to get this. Mainly due to the fact I wanted something with decent towing capacity, 4x4 and in decent condition, this truck fit the bill.

This truck is an LS trimmed truck. It has 9 passenger capacity as it has a split bench seat up front. It has functional 4x4 and only 155k miles at the time of writing this post. I’ve put on about 4k miles in the time I’ve had it. The truck is powered by the Vortec 5.3l/327ci V8, also has the 4L60E transmission and a 31 gallon fuel tank. It has an open 3.73:1 final drive ratio yet can still eek out 20 mpg if I baby it, which I don’t. I’m a lead footed driver. This one also has remote entry with a perimeter alarm, the standard lift gate with the lift up glass, tow package, load range E tires (at the time of this review), power driver’s seat, “express” one touch driver and passenger power windows, “pass-lock” passive theft system (chipped keys), hydroboost brake system, 4 wheel antilock disk brakes, tow/haul mode and an aftermarket radio. The cloth interior has fared well through time. The seats are still supportive and have little noticeable wear.

The stereo in this truck is a good one, although the speakers that work are failing and the others have suffer from a typical GM truck electrical problem. The truck did blow a fuel line about 7 weeks into owning it. Of course it failed due to rust. And just the other day threw a P0420 Catalyst Efficiency Bank 1 code, which I’m currently diagnosing when I have the time between work and school. Other than those two problems, I haven’t had much to complain about for this truck. It has gotten me everywhere I have needed to go, even in the fowl NY weather. The 4 wheel drive works superbly with little complaints, and has started every time I’ve needed it. The exhaust note on this truck is a bit deeper than the 99 burb, but it’s still quiet.

Now for the pros and cons of the both of these Suburbans. They’re both pretty similar, so to save time and reading I’m combining them into one list. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first.

Cons:

  • Massive size, especially when parking
  • Turning radius of a battleship
  • Typical GM problems
  • Rust, which seems to get GM’s more than others here in NY
  • 3rd row legroom can be more of a problem to anyone who’s above 5 foot or is as fat as I am.
  • The 4L60E trans, not known for its strength. Although it’s probably okay for what I use it for, it’s not GMs best trans.
  • Garbage 4x4 (99 burb)
  • Interior mounted spare (99), takes up space
  • Exterior mounted spare (04), rust issues
  • The running boards are crap (both), getting rid of them on the 04. They’re slippery when wet (both) and flex more than one would like (04)
  • 99s brake pedal feel, it’s so bad
  • The 99s exterior mirrors are awkwardly low, and lights from cars behind you can shine into your face
  • The 04s exterior mirrors are a tad bit smaller and closer to the body than I’d like, and the drivers power mirror doesn’t work
  • Tire monitor (TPMS) on the 04, doesn’t work. I don’t care about it anyways but the dash message gets annoying fast
  • Headlight bulb changes in the 99 are a PITA, whole front fascia needs to be removed
  • 99s center console kinda small
  • 04s front fold down seat center console lid isn’t fully attached

Pros:

  • Massive size, lots of room for activities ( ° ʖ °)
  • Three rows of seating
  • Decently reliable V8 engines
  • 4x4 (04 burb)
  • The rather timeless looks, which don’t feel outdated yet
  • The blue color on both of them. They both look purtyful
  • The 04s pedal feel is amazing, although varies slightly due to the hydroboost
  • The interiors have held up despite their ages
  • Their ride comfort is superb, the 99 is a bit more floaty than the 04
  • OEM ACDelco parts are relatively affordable and easily acquired.
  • Both are rather fuel efficient for their size
  • Auto dimming rearview mirror, can be a little sluggish but an awesome feature. Plus the temp readout and compass are nice to have
  • The hour-meter on the 04, which says the truck has idled for approx 5600 hours
  • Both have a good engine note when you hear it. Both have factory exhaust systems
  • Bulb changes are easy in the 04, and tail lights on the 99
  • Front and rear climate, and the 04s A/C works too
  • Both were decently priced when purchased ($1200 - 99, $4000 - 04)
Mall Crawler status.
Mall Crawler status.

In the end, I would definitely buy another Suburban. They are very practical, have so many options, they can tow significant amounts and most importantly aren’t minivans. Their seating capacity along with the space they have left is one of the many reasons the Suburban nameplate has survived over 83 years since 1935. And the Chevrolet/GMC Suburban is similar with it’s GMC Yukon XL and Cadillac Escalade ESV brethren. With such a versatile platform and a version to fit almost anyone’s budget and preference, I don’t see this truck going anywhere for a long time.

This is my second auto review. Feel free to add any constructive criticisms or comments below. And thanks for reading!